Receiving his very first Guide Dog was ‘love at first sight’ for Point Clare resident Shayne Allen, who was matched with a beautiful black Labrador named Bree last month.
“Meeting her for the first time was emotional and incredible. I love dogs in general but she was just so cuddly and happy. It was absolutely love at first sight,” Shayne said.
Shayne’s sight has slowly deteriorated over the years due to Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary eye condition that has also affected others in his family.
“I’ve had symptoms since childhood but it’s been a gradual loss of sight. I received training with a long cane in my early teens, and in my early 20s I stopped using print material,” Shayne said.
For Shayne, there were many factors behind his decision to get a Guide Dog.
“Two of my uncles have had Guide Dogs so I’ve been around them a long time. I knew getting one for myself would be a natural progression, and I thought it would be better to train with one while I still had some functional vision,” Shayne said.
“I also wanted to take the burden away from my wife. It’s the little things, like being able to go to Coles by myself and get the bread – I wanted that mobility and independence.”
Matching a person with a Guide Dog is an important process, with Instructors from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT ensuring that the dog is well-suited to the person’s specific lifestyle and travel needs. Once matched, the new team needs to build trust and establish a bond, as well as learn how to travel together.
“My Guide Dog Instructor, Alli, told me that it might take a while to build that bond, but we truly bonded straight away,” Shayne said.
“On the first night, I was sitting on the floor and she curled up next to me and fell asleep on my shoulder. She slept that first night without any concerns and seemed so comfortable and settled into our house already.”
For Shayne and his wife, who have two young kids under five, the gentle and affectionate Lab was a perfect match for the whole family.
“My children are besotted with Bree. It’s like she’s been here her whole life,” Shayne said.
While it is still early days for the new Guide Dog team, Shayne said that he already feels a new level of independence with Bree by his side.
“The first time I walked with her on my own we took off at a cracking pace. It was surreal. I forgot how fast I walk naturally,” Shayne said.
“It was such a liberating experience and a defining moment for me,” he said.
“At the moment, I just have this feeling of what’s to come – what avenues can be opened or reopened… It’s a new chapter.”
Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with sight loss that cannot be corrected, including nine who will become blind.
A person doesn’t have to be totally blind to receive help from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT. Anyone losing their sight is encouraged to contact the organisation early, to reduce the risks of falls, accidents and depression.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Just call and make that first step – it doesn’t have to be a dark world with limitations,” Shayne said.
To find out more about Guide Dogs’ free, local services, please call Guide Dogs on 1800 804 805